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The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell

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04
A foundation in discipline
is always the fi rst step
toward victory.
Victory in anything, from war to football, is founded in
training and discipline. Nothing worthwhile is gained
by sloth and wishful thinking.
Its not the will to win that counts, but the will to
prepare to win.
That said, there is one discipline that stands above
all else in the quest for writing success. I was fortunate
to get this lesson early in my writing pursuit, and took it
to heart. It is the single biggest reason I was published in
the fi rst place, and have produced the books I have.
It is, simply, this:
write a quota of words every week
Anthony Trollope was working for the British postal ser-
vice and trying to become accepted as a novelist when
he began a quota system for is writing. He wrote in his
autobiography:
There was no day on which it was my positive
duty to write for the publishers, as it was my duty
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19
to write reports for the Post Of ce. I was free to
be idle if I pleased. But as I had made up my mind
to undertake this second profession, I found it to
be expedient to bind myself by certain self-imposed
laws. When I have commenced a new book, I have
always prepared a diary, divided into weeks, and
carried it on for the period which I have allowed
myself for the completion of the work. In this I have
entered, day by day, the number of pages I have
written, so that if at any time I have slipped into
idleness for a day or two, the record of that idle-
ness has been there, staring me in the face and
demanding of me increased labor, so that the de-
ciency might be supplied.
The daily recording of the number of words you write
is an invaluable incentive to get your work done. But set
your goals on a weekly basis, as Trollope did. “According
to the circumstances of the time—whether my other busi-
ness might be then heavy or light, or whether the book
which I was writing was or was not wanted with speed—I
have allotted myself so many pages a week.”
If something comes up on one day that prevents you
from writing your quota, you just make it up later in
the week.
Do you think that such a mechanical recording sys-
tem is beneath the inspired artist? Trollope was told the
same thing.
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I have been told that such appliances are be-
neath the notice of a man of genius. I have never
fancied myself to be a man of genius, but had I
been so I think I might well have subjected myself
to these trammels. Nothing, surely, is so potent as
a law that may not be disobeyed. It has the force
of the water drop that hollows the stone. A small
daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors
of a spasmodic Hercules. …
I have known authors whose lives have always
been troublesome and painful because their tasks
have never been done in time. … Publishers have
distrusted them, and they have failed to write their
best because they have seldom written at ease. I
have done double their work—though burdened
with another profession—and have done it almost
without an effort. … And that little diary, with its
dates and ruled spaces, its record that must be
seen, its daily, weekly demand upon my industry,
has done all that for me.
Trollopes parting advice still rings true today:
… I therefore venture to advise young men who
look forward to authorship as the business of their
lives, even when they propose that that authorship
should be of the highest class known, to avoid
enthusiastic rushes with their pens and to seat
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themselves at their desks day by day, as though
they were lawyers’ clerks; and so let them sit until
the allotted task shall be accomplished.
If you’re going to be obsessive about anything in the
writing business, make it your word quota.
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